About Gary Lavergne
A SNIPER IN THE TOWER
BAD BOY FROM ROSEBUD
WORSE THAN DEATH
Bad Boy From Rosebud, a serial killer named Kenneth Allen McDuff, was
executed on November 17, 1998. McDuff’s notoriety results not just from
the frightening nature of his crimes, but also from the journey that returned
him to death row AFTER having been paroled from the first death sentence
he received for murders he committed in 1966. McDuff is the only convicted
killer in American history to have been assigned two different death row
numbers and sentenced to two different forms of execution by three different
juries. McDuff’s parole in 1989 made it possible for him to murder again,
which in turn resulted in one of the largest prison construction projects
in the history of the free world.
The Bad Boy From Rosebud delves into:
- McDuff's childhood;
- The unbelievable sub-culture of drugs, prostitution and violence in
which he flourished;
- The horrifying crimes he committed;
- The extraordinary cooperation of at least one dozen law enforcement
agencies engaged in a nationwide manhunt to arrest him;
- His unwitting fashioning of an "impossible" political coalition
to restructure the criminal justice system
- The dramatic search for and recovery of missing victims
- A minute-by-minute account of his execution on November 17, 1998
The Bad Boy From Rosebud:
The Murderous Life of Kenneth Allen McDuff
"This is classic crime reporting."
Dan Rather, Anchor, the CBS Evening News
"He was the Bad Boy from Rosebud – always has been."
Ellen Roberts, Former Justice of the Peace, Falls County
rolling hills of central Texas cradle a hamlet called Rosebud. It lies
in the Blackland Prairie. With the luck of ample rain, the dark, rich soil
supports a diversity of crops. But the land can be unforgiving as well.
During periods of drought the waves of brown grain, chest-high dead cornstalks,
or emaciated cotton plants prove that nature rules and serve as witnesses
to the death that can overshadow the otherwise lush and living countryside.
The inhabitants of the Blackland Prairie are as diverse as their homes.
Sprawling ranch-style houses exist alongside crumbling trailers — some
with elaborate steps, porches, and roofs that probably cost as much as
the trailers. In some cases, almost within arm’s length, expensive satellite
dishes bring the world, good and bad, to televisions in small living rooms
with rotted particle board floors.
Once, the hamlets of the Blackland Prairie catered to small family-owned
farms. Today, the hamlets evidence the merger of those farms into fewer,
larger, self-sufficient agricultural giants. Numerous old, dried-out, useless
barns and sheds lean dangerously, ghosts of a simpler and perhaps better
When those barns and sheds stood erect during the post-World War II
agricultural boom, Rosebud’s Main Street bustled with business activity.
When entering Rosebud a sign greeted visitors: "Rosebud – We call
it home." It betrays a simple lifestyle. According to a local brochure,
visitors on their way into town drove by stately "homes that made
Rosebud beautiful." The Tarver Home, the Nicholson Home on South First
Street, the palatial "Rosebud Castle," the Reichert House on
Second Street and several others nestled in quiet neighborhoods among mature,
magnificent trees. Rosebud was "a town of good people working together
for the betterment of their community" extolled the Chamber of Commerce.
In an effort to encourage residents to plant a rose bush in every yard,
the Rosebud News, and later the Chamber of Commerce, gave away cuttings
to anyone who did not have a bush. "The City of Rosebud has a lot
to be proud of, but Rosebud is not remembered instantly for its excellent
hospital, rest home, businesses, library, schools and friendly people.
The name and the reputation for having a rose bush in every yard is its
main claim to fame." On the other hand, lore said there was also a
saloon on every street, and as a result, women never went into town on
Saturdays. On Sundays everyone went to church and some worshipers, like
those attending services at the Rosebud Church of Christ, were greeted
by signs offering homespun wisdom: "Don’t pray for rain if you plan
on complaining about the mud."
Rosebud, now a bedroom community populated by workers commuting to Temple,
Marlin, and Waco, is one of the few remaining places where markets close
on Saturdays. Empty, dusty store fronts line Main Street.
The first indication to travelers that they are near Rosebud is a huge
gleaming water storage tank, large enough to meet the needs of a far larger
city. The water system and tank, with "Rosebud" painted on the
north side above a huge stemmed red rose, and the accompanying sewer system
are a result of the tenacity of Ms. Wanda Fischer, who lives in the Reichert
House, one of the homes that made Rosebud beautiful. After serving on the
City Council and then as City Manager for ten years, Ms. Fischer retired
from public service in May 1996. She has lived in Rosebud most of her life.
One of Ms. Fischer’s friends said that "every little town needs
a benevolent despot." And Rosebud had Ms. Fischer. Residents were
known to knock on her doors or windows at all hours of the night with their
problems ranging from serious city-related issues to family arguments only
Ms. Fischer could mediate. She is a graceful and dignified woman who remembers
an earlier Rosebud. She watched sadly as some of the "homes that made
Rosebud beautiful" were torn down and the Blackland Prairie farms
grew larger and fewer while Main Street grew quieter – and more storefronts
covered polished glass with knotted plywood.
Ms. Fischer is the symbol of a nice little town populated by decent
people. But her eyes narrow at the mention of Rosebud’s most infamous son:
Kenneth Allen McDuff. "He was just a vicious killer," she said
To many Rosebud old timers, the name Kenneth Allen McDuff brings to
mind a rowdy, downright mean, bully on a loud motorcycle. He liked to fight
and he liked to scare the small and the weak. Sometimes he hurt people,
but the only time he ever fought someone with a reasonable chance of fighting
back he got kicked around a ravine traversed by a bridge where school children
crowded in order to relish the long-overdue administration of "justice
for McDuff." But the name McDuff conjures up more than just a school
yard fight between two ninth graders. People remember the horror of the
1966 "Broomstick Murders" of three teenagers for which McDuff
was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by electrocution.
"Only a few people from Rosebud ever went to prison, and one of
them was for stealing two turkeys," lamented the former editor of
the Rosebud News.
"He was the bad boy of Rosebud – always has been," confessed
Ms. Ellen Roberts, a former Justice of the Peace and one of Kenneth’s teachers.
She remembers him coming from a hard-working family headed by a stern mother
and a father who worked so much that it seemed as if that was all he did.
Other neighbors said that the McDuffs were hard to figure. They were not
overly loud and obnoxious – but they were not warm people either.
In October of
1989, in a twist of history that many in Rosebud, indeed, in all of Texas
and throughout the nation, still cannot believe, the State of Texas set
Kenneth Allen McDuff, the Broomstick Murderer, free. It was not just some
incredible ruling by an activist bleeding-heart judge. No trial error dismissed
his case. No suspicious California or New York conspiracy set him free.
He was paroled – by Texans!
All of a sudden the fear returned. "A lot of people around here
are scared, and they have a right to be," said Texas State Trooper
Richard Starnes. Rumors ravaged an already tremulous little town. In nearby
McLennan County, Detective Richard Stroup reported that his office had
been getting calls from housewives afraid to leave their kids by themselves
during broad daylight. Schools took precautions, and bus drivers were warned
by school administrators to be alert for the Bad Boy from Rosebud. The
very sad irony was that, 30 years after he had dropped out of school, Kenneth
McDuff was still scaring school children and giving principals trouble.
Rosebud, and the world, would soon discover that he had never grown up;
he had only gotten frightfully larger and much more dangerous.
Kenneth Allen McDuff became the architect of an extraordinarily intolerant
atmosphere in Texas. He brought about the restructuring of the third largest
criminal justice system in the United States. The first sentence of Ken
Anderson’s excellent book, Crime in Texas: Your Complete Guide to the Criminal
Justice System, consists of two words: "Kenneth McDuff" followed
by "More than any other person, McDuff has come to represent everything
that was wrong with the Texas criminal justice system. He convinced everyone
– citizens, politicians, the news media – just how broken the Texas system
Indeed, McDuff managed to forge a coalition, that could never have been
formed under a normal political discourse, to do one thing – build prisons.
In the May 1996 issue of Texas Monthly Robert Draper described "the
biggest prison system ever concocted by any free society in history."
Draper's article, which does not mention McDuff, clearly shows that the
great Texas buildup had its roots even before the McDuff story hit the
stands. Federal lawsuits involving prison overcrowding and media coverage
of gang violence put Texas on the path of a building binge. From 1990 to
1995 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s budget more than tripled
(from $700 million to $2.2 billion). By 1996 the prison system had more
than 146,000 beds. In a two year period (1994-1996) the number of units
(prisons) went from 65 to 102, and the number of inmates grew from 72,000
to 129,000. But the bulk of the funding, a huge new TDCJ budget and a billion
dollar bond issue passed in 1993, which made possible such a penal explosion,
resulted in part from emotion-ridden "debates" ladened with references
to Kenneth McDuff. At the very least, Kenneth McDuff validated an urge
for a prison buildup. Depending on the measure, today only Russia and China
(and possibly California) have larger prison systems than Texas.
The spasm of prison construction and parole reforms collectively called
the "McDuff Rules," resulted from an enormous display of anger
vented towards a system that had broken down. "This guy beat the system,"
said Austin Police Department Detective Sonya Urubek. "If I have to
spend every day at the Capitol, if I have to scream, [I’ll do] whatever
I have to do," promised Lori Bible, the sister of one of McDuff’s
victims. They were typical comments in a flood of outrage. It turns out
that from 1965 to 1992, McDuff had been arrested for burglary, sent to
prison, paroled, arrested for three brutal murders while on parole, sent
back to prison and placed on death row, taken off of death row, convicted
of a felony while in prison, paroled, arrested for making terroristic threats
while on parole, sent back to prison, paroled again, arrested for driving
while intoxicated while on parole, put in jail, released from jail, placed
on probation, arrested for public intoxication while on parole and probation,
arrested for murder while on parole and probation again, and finally, put
back on death row. Texans will no longer take chances.
The case of Karla Faye Tucker removed all doubt about Texas’ commitment
to capital punishment. She was a born-again Christian who few doubted had
truly rehabilitated herself, but was executed by lethal injection in February
1998. Texas state officials received thousands of appeals for clemency,
including those from the Pope, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Amnesty International,
and the United Nations. Significantly, even after such an outpouring of
support, she would not receive a single favorable vote from the 18-member
Board of Pardons and Paroles. Governor George W. Bush, hardly a rabid advocate
of capital punishment, refused to intervene. Tucker’s execution re-ignited
the debate for a few days, but it did virtually nothing to move Texas away
from its historic commitment or its new-found allegiance to the death penalty.
Some even took perverse comfort in knowing justice is indeed "blind"
in Texas. A capital murderer will be executed, even if she is a good-looking,
white, Christian woman. David Botsford, Tucker’s lawyer, would lament after
her execution that "Texas has no mercy." When it comes to capital
murder, he is absolutely right — the result of the long-term effect of
historical support for capital punishment by Texans compounded by the short
term effect of Kenneth Allen McDuff. For many, McDuff removed the doubts
and discomforts good and thoughtful people have of supporting the death
penalty, even in a case like that of Karla Faye Tucker. Indeed, he has
become the poster boy of capital punishment.
Why is he the poster boy? How did he gain such notoriety? Because in
his case, the advocates of the death penalty are right: Had Kenneth McDuff
been executed after the Broomstick Murders of 1966, the young women he
murdered from 1989 to 1992 would be alive today. McDuff tragically illustrated
that even a death sentence is not a certainty. As long as pardons and clemency
exist, and as long as there is a possibility that one day the Supreme Court
can rule that capital punishment, whether de facto or in its application,
is cruel and unusual, there is no such thing as a guaranteed execution
much less a true "life without parole" sentence.
McDuff managed to outrage more than just the kooks who party in Huntsville
during executions. The massive Texas prison buildup came about during the
administration of liberal Democratic Governor Ann Richards, who readily
admitted that she would much rather have spent such a vast sum of money
on other things. Her career championing liberal causes took a back seat
to what "had to be done." Conservative Republicans did an about
face as well; at a time when their doctrine was to reduce spending and
the size of government, they encouraged and supported one of the largest
expansions of state government in the history of the United States, as
well as its necessary revenue enhancements. Only Kenneth McDuff could inspire
ultra conservatives to see big government as a solution. It had to be done
– such was the effect of the Bad Boy from Rosebud.
Investigators in dozens of law enforcement jurisdictions, hardened by
years of dealing with brutality of all types and the evil they see, were
be aghast at what they learned about McDuff. A descendant of a legendary
law enforcement family, United States Marshal Mike Earp, said that McDuff
was "basically an animal who had to be taken off the streets."
"A sadistic bastard is what he is," said McLennan County Deputy
Richard Stroup, as he straightened his stance and gritted his teeth.
Fred Labowitz, a renowned Dallas psychologist, summed up the mystery
and the frustration, and our unsettling helplessness: "This guy goes
beyond the study of human behavior." No matter how much we contemplate
the Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons of the world, "none of this can
prepare us for an encounter with Kenneth McDuff."
Other mass murderers have caught our attention. Charles Manson exposed
a fascination we have with the bizarre, but he had virtually no effect
on our behavior or our laws. Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Henry Lee Lucas,
and Jeffery Dahmer horrified us with what they did. But in those cases
we were caught by surprise — we could not have predicted that they would
do what they did.
Kenneth McDuff set himself apart from the others. What he did from 1989
to 1992 was utterly predictable because he had done it before. That he
was paroled to kill and paroled to kill again galled every civilian public
official who knew of him. Some of his own family members could not believe
he had been set free. How on Earth could this happen? Who did this? After
finding out that Kenneth had been freed through a perfectly legal process,
Charlie Butts, a former Assistant District Attorney from Tarrant County,
and a truly refined country gentleman, bristled at the suggestion that
anyone could possibly consider McDuff rehabilitated. "I don’t give
a damn what he did in prison; he is a killer and he will always be a killer."
On a personal level, Kenneth McDuff brought out atypical behavior in
people. J.W. Thompson of the Austin Police Department, a person of faith
and a kind and gentle father of two young daughters, and an easy-going
and unassuming homicide detective, gets angered when reminded of assertions
once made by McDuff’s former lawyer and former Parole Board members who
claimed to genuinely believe that the convicted murderer could have contributed
to society. "Well, he did!" J.W. said uncharacteristically in
a voice dripping with anger and sarcasm. "He gave me a lot of damn
overtime I did not want!"
Noted defense attorney F. Lee Bailey is probably right when he asserts
that we are often caught off-guard at the discovery of mass murderers because
we have not done what he calls "our homework." The frustration
of not knowing what to do caused Bailey to ask rhetorically: "What
should be done about such creatures?" Truman Capote, the author of
In Cold Blood, suggested that we cannot begin to understand mass
murderers and thus cannot pretend to treat them.
Others, like Charlie Butts, seasoned by more than four decades prosecuting
and defending the accused, say that people like McDuff have "no conscience
and it doesn’t make him crazy; it just makes him mean." Another prosecutor
of Kenneth McDuff, Crawford Long of the McLennan County District Attorney’s
Office, stated simply, "He was not driven to this; he chose it."
Truman Capote may be right. Maybe we cannot treat mass murderers because
we cannot understand them. But then, maybe there is nothing to treat. Maybe
some people, like McDuff, are mean because they want to be and kill because
they like it. In the case of Kenneth Allen McDuff, a serious search for
an answer begins with his first victim – Rosebud.
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